NPB news: Oct. 20, 2023

Japanese pro baseball had one elimination game as its two leagues’ Foreplay Series Final Stages reached Game 3 in and around Osaka with the Hanshin Tigers holding a 3-0 lead over the Hiroshima Carp, and the Orix Buffaloes leading the Lotte Marines 2-1.

Friday’s games

Buffaloes 2, Marines 0: At Osaka UFO Dome, Yutaro Sugimoto saved at least a run in the outfield and set up the game’s first run with a hustling eighth-inning leadoff double as the Orix Buffaloes moved to within one win or one tie of their third-straight Japan Series.

Lotte manager Masato Yoshii opted for a bullpen game to try and even the series at 2-2. Orix loaded the bases with two outs in the first against Hirokazu Sawamura and in the second against Shunsuke Nakamori to no avail, while rookie Kohei Azuma retired seven straight batters after two had reached in the first with one out.

Nakamori was able to get through three innings without any more difficulty, and no-out singles by Koki Yamaguchi and Toshiya Sato put the heat on Azuma in the fifth. A bunt moved the runnners over, but two short flies ended the inning, the second, caught on a diving effort by the lumbering Sugimoto in left as the lucky Lotte Marines mojo failed to materialize for the first time in the series.

The Marines had the mojo on defense, however. Yuki Kuniyoshi, Lotte’s third pitcher, saved a run in the fifth by snaring a two-out liner headed for center with runners on the corners. Kuniyoshi had a stress-free sixth, and Taisuke Yamaoka, who blew a one-run save opportunity on Thursday, came out to pitch the top of the seventh for Orix and worked around a one-out hit batsman.

After a scoreless eighth inning from Buffaloes Yuki Udagawa, Sugimoto hustled to a leadoff double against new reliever Takahiro Nishimura, and pinch-runner Yuya Oda scored on a two-out single by Kenya Wakatsuki, who beat the throw home on a pinch-hit double from Yuma Tongu.

Yoshihisa Hirano, who saved Wednesday’s wild Game 1, stranded a runner in the ninth to extend his record as the oldest pitcher to record a postseason save in Japan.

Tigers 4, Carp 2: At Koshien Stadium, Seishiro Sakamoto twice put Hanshin in front with two-out RBI singles, and the Hanshin Tigers swept their Foreplay Series Final Stage.

For the third straight game, Hiroshima struck first, only for the Tigers to come back. Takeshi Uemoto doubled with two outs in the fourth off Kotaro Otake, went to third on Shogo Akiyama‘s infield single, and scored on Shogo Sakakura‘s line single.

Takumu Nakano opened the Tigers’ fourth with their first hit off Hiroki Tokoda, a weak-contact infield single. Yusuke Oyama, who led the CL in walks, drew his second of the game. Two-out RBI singles by Sheldon Neuse and Sakamoto put the Tigers up 2-1.

For the first time in the series, however, Hiroshima erased a deficit. Ryosuke Kikuchi led off the fifth with his second hit, went to third on Kaito Kozono‘s flare single to center and tied the score on Shota Dobayashi’s fly to medium-deep left. With two outs, Kozono stole second, Ryoma Nishikawa walked on 10 pitches, but Otake struck out Uemoto with his 105th pitch to preserve the tie.

Rookie lefty Takuma Kirishiki, Hanshin’s second pitcher, retired six of the seven batters he faced.

Tokoda spun a 1-2-3 fifth and retired the first two batters in the sixth before Teruaki Sato singled and Neuse walked, and Sakamoto hit a 2-2 pitch off the handle for an RBI Texas Leaguer to put the Tigers in front again.

Hanshin rookie Shota Morishita‘s seventh-inning bases-loaded walk pushed across an insurance run before he saved a run in the top of the eighth with a tumbling two-out catch on a flare by pinch-hitter Ryuhei Matsuyama.

With one out in the ninth, Takayoshi Noma reached for the third time with his second walk, and Kozono followed with his second single, off Suguru Iwazaki. The lefty closer struck out Shota Dobayashi but fell behind 3-0 to Nishikawa before ending it on a fly ball to Neuse in left.

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